Ten steps to successful engagement

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As a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health, the Wellcome Trust believes that everyone, of every age and background, should be able to engage with and enjoy science.

Young people who are at a relative socioeconomic disadvantage can find it hard to connect with certain educational and cultural experiences. In particular, experience of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects can be invaluable as they provide a means by which these young people can better engage with the modern world and take advantage of the opportunities it affords.

The Wellcome Trust commissioned Platypus Research to undertake two strands of work: first, a literature review that examined previous work with this audience; and second, new research to find out what such young people do in their spare time and how they might be better engaged with science.

Ten steps to successful engagement

The research identified ten steps that can be taken to maximise the success of engaging with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

  • 1. Know your objectives and audience

Objectives for any engagement strategy must be clear from the outset. Identifying and understanding your audience is vital for success.

  • 2. Engage a champion and be mindful of family influence

Engagement works best when a trusted and relevant champion is involved and this is particularly important for those disengaged from education. Strategies may also need to tackle the attitudes of their surrounding network of influencers.

  • 3. Ensure the activity is young person-led

The best engagement involves young people in the whole process, right from the very start, and also consults teachers, youth workers, peers and those within the community.

  • 4. Ensure the activity is relevant and pitched at the right level

Activities should link, directly or indirectly, to something of interest to the young people targeted, and should be pitched at the right level to maintain engagement.

  • 5. Invest in long-term relationships for maximum impact

Long-term relationships are likely to have a greater and longer-lasting impact on young people, their schools or organisations, and the wider community. The reliability and regularity of interactions seem to be more important than their actual length per se, so consistent engagement (that happens, for example, every year or every month) is the most impactful, as it becomes part of a young person’s life experience.

  • 6. Make it practical and interactive

Young people enjoy practical activities in which they can actively get involved rather than just watch. Informal science activities should be interactive and hands-on to maximise enjoyment.

  • 7. Facilitate socialising with friends

Activities need to be organised in places where young people can be with their friends, as this is key to them finding something fun and enjoyable, particularly from secondary school onwards.

  • 8. Be financially and geographically accessible

As much as possible, provide activities at low or no cost. Cost is a barrier to engaging with regular activities and cultural offerings for some, especially those with larger families. Many young people and families from lower SES backgrounds rarely travel outside their local area. Places they already go to are ideal for holding activities, such as schools, youth groups, churches, leisure centres and local parks.

  • 9. Celebrate and reward successes

Recognise and celebrate genuine achievements. Praising and rewarding young people for their efforts and achievements (through points, levels, badges or treats, etc.) is motivating and can help increase their self-esteem.

  • 10. Communicate carefully and through trusted channels

The words used to describe any activity need to be carefully considered. The word ‘science’ itself appears to be strongly linked to formal learning and can be quite divisive. ‘Experiments’ tends to bring about more positive associations. Word of mouth appears to be extremely important as a trusted channel for communicating; creating ‘buzz’ or ‘social currency’ among young people is key.

Recommendations for funders

  1. Funding processes need to be developed in a way that allows activities to be led by young people. This may mean considering less-defined applications, where activities will be finalised with participants during the delivery phase of a project.
  2. A desire for an online central resource system for sharing informal science knowledge and tools was expressed. Funders could provide such a resource or support the sharing of knowledge and tools in other ways, such as by creating online communities or facilitating face-to-face meetings.

The full report can be found here http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/About-us/Publications/Reports/Education/WTP056333.htm.


A face-to-face qualitative approach was used to gain in-depth and detailed feedback on the lifestyle, attitudes and behaviours of young people from low SES families, as well as generate ideas for how young people could be engaged with informal science in the future.

Interviews were conducted with three audiences:

  • Young people aged 9 to 19 years; 16 mini groups or triads
  • Teachers and youth workers; 16 depth interviews
  • Parents; 4 mums triads and 2 mother and father pairs

Interviews were conducted in four locations to provide a spread across the UK (London, Birmingham, Barnsley, Glasgow) and a mix of city and semi-rural locations were included.


"Platypus delivered two comprehensive reports for us around engaging disadvantaged young people with science. We were particularly pleased with the high quality of the focus groups that they undertook for this work, which really helped to draw out valuable insights into young people's attitudes towards science and science engagement activities. Throughout the whole process, Platypus were a pleasure to work with and we would happily recommend them".

Matt Hickman, Programme Manager - Informal Science Learning (Education), Wellcome Trust




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Guest Sunday, 18 February 2018